Progressive measures in Haringey Council’s Budget 2019/20

On Monday 25 February 2019, there was a Full Council Meeting in which the budget for 2019/20 was approved. Despite the deep austerity cuts, I am pleased that we agreed a budget with many progressive measures such as an extension of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme so that the poorest in our society do not pay any council tax at all. I spoke during the budget making session. Below is my speech.

Madam Mayor, I am pleased to support the first budget of this Labour administration.

 Haringey has seen its funding cut by over 60% in real terms since 2010 as the Conservatives and the Lib Dems – the Con Dem alliance – condemned us to years of austerity by wielding the axe on local government funding.

This evening, I want to talk about some of the progressive measures we are taking in this budget.

I am really pleased that we are announcing a pilot scheme to provide free school meals to primary school children.

When I first got elected as a Cllr for Noel Park, I received a number of post cards from children at Noel Park Primary School. On the post cards, they drew beautiful little pictures of different types of food that they would like to feed their friends, those from families with no recourse to public funds. As you know, children from families with no recourse to public funds are not entitled to free school meals. So, the children from Noel Park Primary School were appealing to me and my Cllr colleagues to provide free school meals to all their friends. This was probably the first time that these young citizens were lobbying politicians.

And I am really pleased to say that I can go back to those children and tell them that we are putting in place steps through our pilot scheme to provide free school meals to all children including those from families with no recourse to public funds.This demonstrates this Council’s commitment to achieving a fairer Haringey.

The second measure that I am particularly pleased about is the Council Tax Reduction Scheme which will help 6,000 of the poorest families in Haringey of those 3,000 families will have to pay no council tax whatsoever.

This will be welcome by constituents in my ward, Noel Park at a time when the very poorest in our society are feeling the pinch with deep benefit cuts, introduction of universal credit and rising levels of child poverty and in-work poverty.This measure will also go some way to make Haringey a fairer place for all our residents.

I am delighted that we are investing in our youth services, building new council houses and putting in place measures to support the poorest and the most disadvantaged in our borough.

“If the climate was a bank, it would have been saved by now”

“We only have one planet. When it’s gone, it’s gone”

“Drown our voices = Drown our futures”

“If climate was a bank, it would have been saved by now”

“Save our planet”

“We missed our lessons, so we could teach you one.”

These were some of the inspiring messages on home made plackards carried by school children in Parliament square as they went on a strike over our government’s lack of action on climate change on Friday 15 February.

This reminded of my campaigning activities as a British Council’s international climate champion 10 years ago. I was part of an international network of climate activists working on projects to raise awareness of and tackle climate change. I went to an international climate change camp in the Nilgiri mountains in Tamil Nadu, India where I studied the impact of climate change manifested through landslides and deforestation.

I also spoke at UK’s first climate hearing organised by Oxfam at City Hall. I talked about my experience of cyclone Gorky which hit Bangladesh in 1991 killing almost 140,000 people and rendering 10 million people homeless. Severe weather patterns such as cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis have become more common in recent years because of climate change.

Theresa May began her term in office by scrapping the Department for Energy and Climate Change which had been set up by the last Labour Government. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement which had been agreed by every other nation in 2015.

Actions of our governments in the UK and US are putting our planet at risk. School children have much to be angry as it is their future that is at risk from our governments’ inaction. I call on the UK Government to wake up and listen to these kids’ voices. As they said in one of their plackards: “Drown out our voices = Drown out our future”.

Winning Labour’s NCC election with 327,292 votes

I am absolutely privileged to have been elected onto Labour’s National Constitutional Committee. I topped the poll with 327,292 votes and my fellow candidates on the Left slate all got elected too. This is a proud moment for me to be elected by Party members and to win in such style is very pleasing too.

I ran on a manifesto to democratise the NCC and make it fit for our mass membership. Far too many members had hitherto been suspended when a lesser sanction might have been more appropriate. I shall apply principles of natural justice and due process to ensure that everyone is treated equally and fairly.

As a Bangldeshi Muslim who grew up in a council house, this is a particularly noteworthy achievement, because internal party structures have not always reflected the diversity of our wide membership. I hope to set a good example for other ethnic minority members to come through the ranks and make a contribution to our Party.

Islamophobia Awareness Event: 18 November 2018

November is Islamophobia Awareness Month (#IAM2018). I organised an Islamophobia awareness event at my local mosque, which had been the subject of four separate Islamophobic incidents in the past 18 months. A number of distinguished speakers shed light on this important topic.

Maz Saleem spoke about the impact of islamophobia on a Muslim family – her father was brutally murdered as he was walking home from the mosque

Mohammed Kozbar, the chair of Finsbury Park Mosque shared his experience of how the community responded to the islamophobic attack following the murder of Makram Ali outside Finsbury Park Mosque last year.

Ibrahim Khan, a solicitor at an international law firm and a superviser at Islamophobia Response Unit explained the gap in current legislation on incitement to religious hatred and how Islamophobic cases are dealt with at Islamophobia Response Unit.

Neil Jameson, founder of Citizens UK gave an insight into the intra-community work that is happening to challenge Islamophobia.

There was a presentation on Islamophobia from MEND which they recently gave at Google.

Rise up against Racism: 3 November 2018

 

Haringey Labour Party comrades organised ‘Rise Up Against Racism’, a festival for anti racist campaigners to meet, discuss and debate the sharp rise in racism and far right groups in the West. I was part of a panel of speakers invited to discuss Islamophobia.

I met co-panellist, Maz Saleem at this event whose father, Mohammed Saleem was brutally murdered in Birmingham five years ago. Makram Ali, another elderly Muslim man was murdered last year outside Finsbury Park Mosque. Islamophobia is a lived experience. The demonisation of Muslims by the media and targeting the community through government schemes such as Prevent means that Islamophobia has become mainstream.

Challenging Islamophobia wherever we see is not just a task of Muslims, decent people with progressive values must also speak up against it. Unfortunately, the demonisation of Muslims will not abate under this morally bankrupt Tory government led by Theresa May who is the architect of the hostile environment. Fighting for a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn will ensure that Islamophobia is taken seriously and government policy is introduced to stamp it out for good.

Vigil for victims of Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting

On 28 October 2018, I attended a vigil on Cable Street with Haringey Labour Party comrades to express solidarity with Jewish brothers and sisters in the wake of the terrorist attack on Pittsburgh Synagogue in the US.

Cable Street is a symbol for resistance against fascism and hatred towards Jews and other minorities. 82 years ago, people of the East End came together and stood shoulder to shoulder with the local Jewish community to resist the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley. The lessons of that resistance ring true today as we are faced with the same threat across the Western world. The far right and neo Nazi groups have a new found voice with Donald Trump in the White House.

The vigil was moving and poignant. A number of community activists and religious figures from the Jewish community spoke passionately about the need to stand united and not be divided by hatred.

Labour’s NCC Elections: Rebuilding Confidence Starts Here

By Cecile Wight, Stephen Marks, Annabelle Harle, Susan Press, Khaled Moyeed and Gary Heather (Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance backed candidates for the NCC)

At this year’s Conference, there was a rule change to expand the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) with 14 additional members of whom six will be voted directly by CLPs. The NCC is the Party’s final arbiter of serious disciplinary cases against Party members. Operating quasi-judicially with barristers appearing before it and bound by strict rules of evidence, it has the power to expel members

We are standing to be CLP representatives on Labour’s NCC. We are honoured to have received the backing of left organisations within the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance. We are socialists and have consistently backed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The NCC has been described by members as “Kafka-esque” in the way that disciplinary matters were handled. There was perceived to be a ‘purge’ of the left wing amongst the ordinary Party membership who had been deprived of their democratic right to vote in the 2016 leadership election. The snap election of CLP representatives is an opportunity to rebuild confidence in Labour’s disciplinary procedures. This should begin by fully implementing the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report.

Baroness Chakrabarti recommended that the Labour Party should urgently appoint an in-house counsel. The appointment of Gordon Nardell QC as in-house counsel is a welcome move. In a large organisation such as the Labour Party with over half a million members, it is inconceivable not to have an in-house lawyer to provide initial advice and instruct external lawyers as and when necessary.

Baroness Chakrabarti proposed a framework for clear and transparent procedures for dealing with allegations. She recommended drawing up and adopting a clear complaints procedure which explains with sufficient clarity things such as how and to whom complaints are to be made and how long each stage of the process is likely to take.

How often have you heard that a person had found out about their suspension from the Party through the media? Well, Baroness Chakrabarti has stated that this is a breach of data protection law. She emphasised that the subject of a complaint must be informed immediately and any press enquiries kept to a minimum. She noted that media publicity can be a punishment in itself.

Baroness Chakrabarti noted the power of interim suspensions which might have been weaponised and used too readily in the past. She compared this to civil and criminal courts which do not grant interim injunctions or issue arrest warrants every time a complaint is made. She questioned whether so many members should have been suspended instead of being told that they were being investigated. She recommended that the power of interim suspension should no longer be vested in the NEC, but instead be vested in the NCC.

Baroness Chakrabarti also recommended the use of creative sanctions such as a warning, requiring an apology or public warning or reprimand. In addition, we believe that the use of mediation between members may be suitable in appropriate cases to resolve disputes. We see resolving disputes and conflicts between members as a way of maximising unity and effectiveness in the Party.

CLP representatives have an important role to play in rebuilding confidence in the NCC. We are socialist grassroots Labour Party activists and have decades of experience of activism in the Party between us. We have all been elected by members to serve them in different positions within the Party. We are close to members and would be a powerful voice within the NCC representing them. Our members are the backbone of our movement.

We want the NCC to be a body which is trusted by our mass membership. It must be completely transparent, consistent and timely in its decision making. We will apply due process and principles of natural justice to ensure that members are treated fairly. We believe that the right to a fair hearing is a human right and our members should not be deprived of it.

We have demonstrated our commitment to our movement’s values as campaigners, Party officers and three of us are elected Councillors. We bring a strong set of skills to the NCC to strengthen our Party so that we can work together to make Jeremy Corbyn our next Prime Minister.

The deadline for CLPs to make their six nominations is 28 October 2018. Members should speak to their CLP Secretary to ensure that nominations to the NCC is put on the agenda of a GC or an all-members meeting.

Why I am standing for Labour’s NCC

(First published in the Labour List on 16 October 2018)

This year, Labour Party conference approved the creation of 14 additional members on the party’s national constitutional committee (NCC), six of whom will be voted in directly by CLPs across the country. I am standing to be a CLP representative on Labour’s NCC. In May 2018, I was elected as a councillor in Haringey after campaigning successfully against the mass privatisation of council homes in the form of the Haringey development vehicle. Outside politics, I am a solicitor specialising in dispute resolution and a proud father of two children.

My personal journey has shaped my passion for public service. I moved to Haringey with my family from Bangladesh at the age of 12. I lived in temporary accommodation for many years, moving to different parts of Haringey until we were allocated a permanent council house. After graduating with a Law degree, I worked in Haringey as a community organiser in the early years of my career, delivering projects to improve community cohesion and reduce crime. I set up Haringey Faith Forum, delivered a project to rehabilitate ex-offenders and worked on initiatives to address knife and gun crime.

I left Haringey to pursue my dream to become a litigation and arbitration lawyer. I worked at two leading international law firms in the City of London, and I’ve now set up my own legal practice – but have always remained active in my community. I served as a trustee of Haringey Race and Equality Council and as a governor of my local primary school, for example.

Activism was constantly in my blood, so it was a natural progression that I joined the Labour Party in 2010. I campaigned in my local ward helping to elect three Labour councillors where there was only one before. Local members elected me to serve as branch chair and I helped to rejuvenate the local party in the early years of Ed Miliband’s leadership. I continued to serve in different capacities including as BAME officer of Tottenham CLP.

I knew Jeremy Corbyn from when he used to visit my secondary school, which was in his constituency. I knew of his activism to support human rights causes, whether for Palestinians or the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands. It was a no-brainer for me when he stood for the Labour leadership in 2015, and I was proud to speak on behalf of his candidacy when my CLP met to nominate its leadership candidate in 2015. Like Jeremy, I had been a socialist well before it was fashionable.

I am running for a place on Labour’s NCC because I would like to be a powerful voice representing ordinary members, who are the backbone of our movement. I have always been close to party members who had elected me to serve them in various positions at branch and constituency level. It is now time for me to step up and serve the party at national level. My skills as a dispute resolution lawyer will certainly be helpful as the NCC is a semi-judicial body. I am familiar with principles of natural justice.

My background as a thirty-something Muslim who grew up in an inner city council home is relevant. Internal Labour Party structures have not always been representative of our diverse membership, even though our party has long been the natural home of ethnic minorities. In 1945, 26 out of 28 Jewish MPs were Labour members, and in 2010, the proportion of ethnic minority votes for Labour were more than double that amongst the white population. I have lifted these statistics from page six of the Shami Chakrabarti Report, which brings me nicely onto how I would like to see the NCC transformed to make it fit to serve Labour’s mass membership. This process should begin by fully implementing the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report. I am glad to see that some of the recommendations have already been implemented such as the appointment of a general counsel.

The NCC has to work extremely hard to regain the confidence of members. It must be transformed so that it is completely transparent. Members of the NCC should act independently without being unduly influenced by prevailing media narrative on various issues. Billionaire media barons are not really friends of the Labour Party.

The NCC has been described by members as “Kafka-esque” in the way that disciplinary procedures were handled. The body should win the hearts and minds of our members to ensure that there is never ever a repeat of the ‘left-wing purge’ that deprived far too many members of their democratic right to vote in the 2016 leadership election.

I am honoured to have received the backing of comrades in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour Representation Committee, Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Momentum, Labour Briefing Co-op, Jewish Voice for Labour and Red Labour. I would be grateful for nominations from CLPs by 28th October 2018.